KUALA LUMPUR • A video clip and video grab was published in the Malaysian media yesterday, showing a young man climbing a metal gate to gain access into an Islamic school in Kuala Lumpur at 3.10am on Thursday, some two hours before a blaze killed 23 people who were trapped inside the building.
The youth's face was clearly seen as he entered the compound of an adjoining building and crawled on all fours to enter the ill-fated school, Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz.
The video recording from a building next to the school, which is located in Jalan Datuk Keramat, is believed to have been used by the police to detain seven teenagers, aged 11 to 18, as key suspects in a case that has shocked the country, as it resulted in one of the highest number of deaths caused by a fire.
The victims, aged between seven and 17, mostly died of smoke inhalation on the third storey of the building. Two teachers also died in the fire.
The only fire incident with more victims was the September 1989 blaze at an Islamic school hostel in Yan district in Kedah when 27 girls were killed, according to the New Straits Times (NST).
In the Kuala Lumpur school case, the police have said "revenge" was the motive for the fire, following verbal taunts between students at the school and a group of teenagers, some of whom have tested positive for marijuana.
Police also said two cooking gas cylinders were found at the only escape route on the third storey, which was otherwise blocked with a grille gate.
Berita Harian Malaysia reported on its website that the suspects, who were being held at the Jinjang police station in Selangor, had confessed.
Police believe another suspect was loitering around the area until about 15 minutes before the deadly fire started, Harian Metro newspaper said on its website.
Ms Noorazlina Bakry, 36, the grieving mother of an 11-year-old victim, said she would not forgive the arson suspects for allegedly setting fire to the school intentionally.
"I don't want to meet them, I don't want to see their faces... I will not forgive their actions," she was quoted by NST. "I want justice to be upheld."
The deadly blaze has led to questions about fire safety at poorly funded private Islamic schools that have mushroomed across the country, many of which are unregistered with any ministry or town council.
About half of the 1,200 private Islamic schools in Malaysia are not registered, according to estimates by the Federation of National Associations of al-Quran Tahfiz Institutions. Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz is one of them.
As of January last year, there were 36,000 students in 547 registered tahfiz schools. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said there are about 50,000 tahfiz students nationwide. Their lessons include learning to memorise the Quran.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has said the government will allocate RM30 million (S$9.5 million) to upgrade the infrastructure of private Islamic religious schools nationwide.
Meanwhile, the Kuala Lumpur Hospital said yesterday that three of the boys who survived the blaze have been discharged, while four others remain in hospital.